Tuesday, October 30, 2012


One of my bands worked on a tough song this week and also tried jam writing a new one. We don't typically work like this...we usually gloss over problems and rarely jam out ideas.

This isn't a statement on the people involved, it is a general statement. Communication is the key to a successful and enjoyable band experience. Rarely, however, does it seem that a room full of musicians are able to communicate well. At least not at the level that I'm playing at. Everyone has different language for what they are trying to communicate...the word "measure" or "phrase" means different things to different people. People don't understand how other instruments work. I personally get stressed out because I feel like I'm being challenged more than listened to. I don't understand what we are talking about...problem 1...and I may or may not be able to do what I'm asked from a skill position...problem 2. I like being shown things in writing or being able to listen to a recording over and over. I like to be able to work through things repeatedly...I can't just pull it out of my ass on the first try. You can't explain to me in words usually...my mind shuts down. It is frustrating.

I don't really know how to fix this. I think usually the answer is for me to remain uninvested, which is too bad. The minute I care about understanding others or having them understand me...the game is lost. I just need to do whatever I'm gonna do and let them do whatever they are gonna do and not talk about it. Talking about it always leads to frustration. It's frustrating either way...but better to be frustrated in silence than to get into an argument.

The answer is always to shut up it seems. People who shut up get along better in life. I should shut up.

Monday, October 29, 2012

CJ as Mirror People at Mickey's 10/27/2012

CJ played as Mirror People (Love and Rockets) and played all of Earth Sun Moon at Mickey's for Halloween with Pink Floyd and Nick Cave as openers.

Well...we wanted to play the entire album. Pink Floyd had some set up trouble and started way late and probably went longer than we'd expected. Change over took longer for all bands than expected. In short...for a show that was advertised to start at 10pm with 3 bands...the last band (us) went on at 1:45am. This breaks our previous record of getting put off until 1:40am at Inferno. Luckily bar time was 2:30am...but even so we had to cut the last two songs from the set.

I played pretty well though I was discombobbled. More from quick turn over than from having gone to a show at the Shitty Barn the same night. I still feel like my amp cuts in and out but I can't really narrow down when and how. We played well as a group. The sax was awesome.

I could get all bummed out about the circumstances...but I think I need to adjust my expectations. Or we just need to stop agreeing to go last. It's easy to get upset about putting in lots of prep work into something that never comes to full fruition...but I'm just setting myself up for disappointment if I don't think this won't happen again and again. Some people are inconsiderate or ill prepared...and sometimes things happen that are beyond everyone's control. Either way...shit happens. Getting upset about it just makes me a victim twice.

I had one beer after the show and none before or during. The turnout was really good and enthusiastic and stayed until the bitter end (even 15 minutes after last call). Even though it was packed, we only made $87...which seemed really, really low. I don't know if we got less than 1/3 or if it only seemed crowded cause everyone was in the front room. It was cold so the back patio might have been more sparse than usual.

Mirror People
The Light
Welcome Tomorrow
No New Tale to Tell
Here On Earth
Waiting for the Flood
Rain Bird
The Telephone Is Empty
Everybody Wants to Go To Heaven
Earth Sun Moon (cut for time)
Youth (cut for time)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


The time has come to record again. Not Record...with a capital R...record with a small r.  Basically I've got two new bands where everything is fresh and exciting and they both are thinking
1) we need a demo to get gigs
2) we need to be able to record song ideas to remember them
3) all our friends want to hear our songs!

The first two of these sentiments I can get behind. The third makes me wince. No one wants to hear our songs. They just don't. They say they do, but they are just being nice. I've only really been in this music game for about ten years, but I know enough to know that 1) people say they will come to your shows but they don't 2) people say that they want your record but they will never listen to it. I also know that producing a recording of any kind of quality that is worth more than just a glancing view on Youtube costs time and money. And probably isn't worth it. I like recording my bands to archive that period in my life. But doing it for other people is not that important in my experience.

Anyway, sometime after 2008 my main method for recording, my multitracker, developed a strange quirk and so I stopped using it. It wasn't until maybe 6 months ago that I resolved the quirk. But now I've forgotten everything I ever knew (which wasn't much) about using the thing. But I guess it is time to get back up to speed.

I have two main issues with my setup...one is that it predates USB, so the only way to get files out is by burning them to CD...which takes a long time, wastes discs...and on that fateful day when the CD Rom gives up the ghost (which it surely will) renders the device useless.  It also only has two inputs...which means that I either need an external mixer or to record parts by track. This is fine when I'm alone in my house being a one person band...but when there's a pile of other people sitting there with you who may or may not know what they are doing...well it is just a pain in the ass. Recording is hard work, especially multi-track recording. It takes time and I'm not really interested in spending that time right now.

I say let somebody film us on their shitty digital camera, post it on YouTube, and call it a day. This is good enough to get gigs with and to placate the people who say they want recordings but who are actually full of shit. My main goal with my eager bandmates will be to impart this point of view.

But there's another reason to record...an unexpected one. Which is that yesterday I wrote a song. I haven't done that in about 4 years.  The song is for one of the bands, and I'd like to be able to make a recording of vocal, guitar, bass, and maybe drums to present to the band so that they can go off and write keyboard and horn parts (and probably better drum and guitar parts). And hopefully for someone else to learn to sing it cause I sure don't want to sing it. Having a recording to give them would be way easier than trying to play it for them live and them having to try to remember it. I don't want to be in the songwriter/director mode. I just want to say...here's an idea...go work out the details and come back and let's try to play it.

This project will require the multitracker for sure. Or multitracking at least.  I think I've realized that I may actually be able to use Audacity and a regular plug and play laptop microphone to get this done, as least for a scratch demo track (help on pc mic connections here). I know that having an actual USB microphone and protools would be better...but if I can manage to limp along with what I have than why not? Here's a full step by step on using Audacity to record.

There's no time to test out any of this now...it'll be next weekend probably before I get a hack at it. It puts me in the position of running equipment that I don't really understand and then being percieved as the "expert" but oh well. It is my curse.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I have never had a great ear for tuning. I'm not tone deaf, but I've never REALLY understood and internalized tuning by ear. It is only quite recently that it has begun to make any sense to me at all...but I still have trouble knowing if something is sharp or flat.

This is a case where the public school system really failed me. I played cello in public school for 7 years. For most of that time I was first chair in my section. I was, I'll say with no ego, the best player or one of the best players. But I had no idea how to tune.  It was generally accepted that I did in fact know how to tune though. I don't ever remember being taught. Not really. I just recall an A 440 playing out at the start of every rehearsal and us being asked to tune. Those who had big issues were assisted by the teacher. The rest were not.  I never had big issues. Why? Because my cello was good at staying in tune. Simple as that. I was careful with it and it was a decent instrument and it just didn't go out of tune very far. So I never learned how to tune.

Looking back this really does seem a collosal failure of the public school music educational program. If it was the case with me, it was surely the case with most people. It is such a fundamental skill...why wasn't it called out as such? It seems, in retrospect, that it is a skill that can be taught...but someone has to take the time to teach it. To train a young person's ears.

In any case, tuning doesn't bother me so much anymore because now I have electronic tuners that tell me if I'm in tune (for open strings) and frets to telling me if I'm playing in the right place. But that doesn't mean that it isn't still an important skill.

It often troubles me because I feel like my instrument, particularly my low E string, isn't quite in tune...even though the tuner says it is and I'm playing in the right place. It just nags a little at me.

In Guitar Zero I learned something that I'd never known before...tuning a guitar is not absolute. I don't totally understand, but essentially if you get your guitar in tune with itself it will be ever so slightly out of tune in other ways. This is different than your guitar not being in tune with itself...which can be corrected by adjusting screws down by the bridge and is refered to as setting your intonation. No what I'm talking about is that tuning a guitar involves compromise...it will never be totally in tune for all purposes. From the site I just linked...

Richard Lloyd, formerly of the hugely influential band Television and now a great guitar educator, discussed an interesting way to mitigate the problem:

First tune the bottom E string to a tuning fork or tuning machine. Next, fret the E. string at the tenth fret. This will give you a D. Tune the D string to this note by ear. Next, fret the D string at the fifth fret. Tune the G string to the D string at the fifth fret. Now fret the G string at the second fret. This gives you an A. Tune the A string from this note. Now fret the A string at the second fret. Tune the B string from this note. It will be an octave up. Next, fret the D string at the second fret. This gives you E. Tune your high E from this. Again this will be an octave.

Voila! Strum the guitar. It should sound considerably more pleasing. If you are playing an acoustic or electric guitar by yourself this should work delightfully. If you are playing with other instruments it can take some real effort to find a harmoniousness between all the separate instruments, but I think that if you try this approach you will begin to get a taste of the difference between tuning to a machine and tuning to natural acoustic principles.

Shocking! I had no idea. I think the upshot is...if you tune each string to a reference pitch the strings will be slightly out of tune with each other. If you tune your guitar relative to itself instead...you'll be out of tune with the other instruments you are playing with. This is crazy to me.

But it might explain why things never sound quite right to me on bass...or playing bass against guitars. Or like why no matter how much I try to tune I don't feel like I'm in tune with the recording of Here Comes Your Man (though I also wonder if they didn't tweak that recording and increase or lower the overall pitch, essentially changing the tuning from how I'm tuned...seems like they did to me). Lately in particular I'll feel like the bass note I'm playing clashes slightly against the chord the guitar player is playing...but when we check to see if we are in tune with each other we are. And they don't seem to notice. Our strings are in tune with each other...but their chord is probably out of tune with itself and therefore out of tune with what I'm playing. Maddening.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Measuring Up

It is probably human nature to compare ourselves to others. I have low self-esteem so I probably do it more than the average person. It is both a factor in me pushing myself to be a better musician and also a significant source of anxiety in my relationship to music. I constantly worry that I'm not "good enough."

Maybe it makes me a bad person, but I watch other musicians and make judgements about their ability. People who say this doesn't happen on a large scale are full of crap. My judgements of others tends to fall into the:
1) I'm better than them (I don't feel particularly good about this, usually it means that the listening experience is not enjoyable)
2) I could do what they are doing, we're about equal (this is the most reassuring feeling)
3) They are way better than me (how I feel about this depends on a modifier...read on)

Fortunately, my assessment doesn't stop here. There's a second tier for those that I percieve as better than me:
1) do I like what they are doing (do I want to listen to it)
2) do I want to be able to do what they are doing.

A surprising amount of the time, my answers to this second tier are:
1) no, I don't like what they are doing
2) no, I don't care if I can't do that.

Essentially, I can appreciate skill and talent even when I don't like it. And when I don't like it, it makes me feel less bad about myself for not being able to do it.  Because I'm insecure though, I'm costantly checking in with myself to see if this is all just sour grapes. You know, the "well I didn't want to be able to do that anyway" attitude. Usually I am able to convince myself that it is not, in fact, sour grapes.

It is a great relief to me that, in the vast world of musical styles and techniques, that there are broad ranges that I can check off my list as "not interested." Jazz. Metal. Latin. Prog. Blues. Afro-Cuban. Reggae. I just don't have to worry about it. So reassuring!

Pop. Rock. Punk. Ska. That's all I'm really interested in. And this is enough of an endless list. (Folk? Country? There's a time and a place. Anyway, for the most part I consider these a subset of pop and rock, though they do touch blues too).

So what about in the case that I perceive the person as way better than me and I DO want to be able to do what they are doing. This makes me feel a little bad, yes, but usually it makes me feel more positive about them than negative about me. And it makes me watch them really closely.

It is interesting, because it isn't so much the internal assessment that makes me feel bad...it is the anticipation of the assessment and the potential comparison to be made by others in attendance. Basically, I don't want to go on the same stage on the same night as someone who is a bunch better than me.

Finishing Guitar Zero

I finished Guitar Zero this weekend. I posted about it a little while ago. Yes it has taken that long to read it because I am slow.

I loved the book, though it did disappoint me. I feel like it didn't draw a strong conclusion. He was going gangbusters and then it was like he ran out of steam and just wrapped up the book too quickly. To be fair, there's likely no real conclusion to be made.

Basically, learning music is unique from learning lots of things, but it isn't totally unique. Kids may learn faster, but adults can learn just as well and may have good advantages in interesting ways.

One of the things I feel like he rushed on towards the end of the book is the why. He covered the how pretty well. But with respect to the why...he kind of just said that it might be good for your brain (but then gave lots of evidence that this might not actually be true) and that it might help you make friends. He also touched on the fact that it is rewarding because it allows you to continue working on a skill for a lifetime.

All of this is true. But none of that is why I want to play music.

I've wanted to play music for as long as I can remember. My earliest references to this was the joy I took in making my voice sound (at least I thought) like Paul McCartney's. This was probably around about 1977 or so.  And around then or shortly after I got the urge to learn to play guitar and piano. I think it was because the sounds those instruments made moved me...or I associated them with good times.  As I became a teenager I idolized musicians and dreamed of being a song writer and a rock star (or folk star). I think it was shallow motivation...but strong none the less. I learned chord organ as a child because I was bored. I learned cello in high school because everybody had to learn an instrument. My mom thinks I picked cello because I liked the girl in Fame...but that was total fabrication. I never actually liked Lori Singer. I liked the guy who played piano. No, I played cello because I was afraid to be in marching band because I worried that when I had my period it would show...and because I thought I was too fat to play violin (so much of your body is exposed). True fact. I played cello to sit down and hide. It was a bonus that cello helped me to learn to teach myself guitar a little while later.

Being in orchestra did something for me though...it gave me a taste of what it is to play in an ensemble. School orchestras rarely attain greatness, or even moderate cohesiveness at all, but I had glimpses of what it was to be totally emersed in an ensemble. To forget yourself. To go on auto pilot. To be in the music. Just glimpses here and there...but powerful glimpses.

Today I think that's what drives me...chasing that perfect moment of total emersion. It can happen playing alone, but it is more likely to happen in an ensemble...in a well rehearsed ensemble. People (non-musicians) try to zing me sometimes when I say that I don't like to perform and I don't like to be on stage and I don't like to have attention drawn to me (still hiding all these years later). "Well than why do you perform?" I perform, pure and simple, to play. It is human nature to half-ass something unless you have a good reason to excel. Performing puts the fire under my butt and the butt of my bandmates to do a good job. To practice and to rehearse. And all I want is to play. As often as possible. At as high of a level as I'm able.

BUT ANYWAY...back to the book.

Two things I liked about it is that it sort of outlined how best to make progress (and that it is probably going to be slow) as an adult music learner...and that it indicated that there are all kinds of ways to understand music. I feel self-conscious that I don't know more theory and that I don't have stronger instincts. I'm kind of in the middle...neither a scholar nor a natural. I tend to discount all that I do know though...which in the eyes of a beginner is a considerable amount. Like most things in life, there are many ways of being, and my way is just as legitimate as anyone else's. I shouldn't let anyone else make me feel bad about my way...or let myself make me feel bad about it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Live Sound 101 and 102

Took an all day class on live sound at the Frequency. It was really well done. It was taught by Dustin and Jourdan Hines (who is worth checking out for touch up private lessons in future). Only complaint is that it was too short.

Where to begin? They told us to buy this book: Modern Recording Techniques, by David Miles Huber and Robert E. Runstein and I will plan to do so.  I was also referred here: http://www.bcae1.com/spkrmlti.htm

101 went through signal chain.

102 went mostly through micing instruments.

There was a lot of information and if I wasn't already knee deep in it I might have felt lost. But I felt about right on. I think I talked too much and asked too many questions...but you snooze you lose. So suck it classmates.

The next day I went out to the storage space and tested all of the GRC pas. I feel like I understand the basics of what is going on with them. I'm still not super clear on sending out fx loops...but this won't be an issue really for GRC or even in running sound for a band at a club usually. It is a bigger deal at a venue. There's lot of stuff in the signal chain that I don't really understand...effects, compressors, gates/limiters...etc. But I get that stuff goes out and comes back and where you place it in the chain matters.

I also learned that high, mid, low eq starts from 0 at 12 o'clock...to the left removes...to the right adds. That's important. Never knew that before.

Most of what I'd already figured out about the GRC pas...matching speakers to amps...hooking up speakers...was confirmed though it was sort of outside the class topics.

By the way...
1. Best...amp watts matches speaker watts
2. Ok but not great...amp watts higher than speaker watts (but hopefully not too much higher or you may blow speaker)
3. Bad...amp watts lower than speaker watts (amp can overheat and melt down, literally).

And in all cases gotta match the ohms from amp to speaker (amp usually says how). Daisy-chaining speakers puts them in parallel...which halves the ohms (8 ohm + 8 ohm in a daisy chain puts out 4 ohm). I still haven't really figured out how one puts speakers in series...I think you might have to hard wire them. But in series the ohms add (8 ohm + 8 ohm = 16 ohm). If you do a combo (some parallel and some series)...get out your calculator.

Other things I learned in class:
  • kissing the mic is good. too far away and you lose something and it is harder to adjust sound
  • place mic in center and close to guitar amp. If two speakers in amp cabinet, only mic one to avoid canceling out phases
  • place bass drum mic in center and just barely inside drum. Off to side is ok...but center likely better.
  • Ok to plug keyboard straight into PA, but you'll get a cleaner and stronger signal using a DI box.
  • Mic signal is very low...mixer gain brings it up to "line level". Dynamic mics have low signal, but condessor are even lower...that's why they need phantom power to boost. Turn off phantom power when up plugging to avoid "pop"
  • Feedback is from pointing mic at speaker. Whether you are pointing mic at speaker depends on the pickup pattern of the mic. Cardiod mostly picks up in front and blocks in back. Omni picks up all around. There are variations on these patterns too...so think about where your monitor speakers point related to pattern of the mic.  So this is why you stand behind main speakers but ok to stand with monitor speakers facing you. With a cardiod mic the pickup is pointed at your head...so that's away from mains and also away from monitors. If you pointed mic at floor it would probably feed back through the monitors...same if you stand in front of mains.
  • There's really no reason to bring a bass amp to a quality venue like Freq or HNS. I should consider not doing it.
  • Live sound is alot about isolating each mic as much as possible.
More as I remember it.